Friday, November 09, 2007

The Ongoing Rape Crisis

So the paper just wrapped up another three-part series on the campus rape "problem." I think they're up to about twice a semester on this by now. The story this time 'round actually has me concerned, but probably not about the things they want me to be concerned about. Here are my thoughts.

To the extent that there is a rape problem on campus, it is a problem of underreporting. I am 100% behind any effort to encourage women to who have been raped to go to hospitals and have a rape kit administered - because this is really the only reliable basis on which the prosecutor can mount a case. If the prosecutor is given the material on which to build a solid case, then of course he should proceed. Rape is a violent crime, and it is primarily against this kind of crime that the criminal justice system exists to protect us.

What I grow increasingly tired of hearing from the IDS, the Office for Women's Affairs, and the Middle Way House is how widespread the rape "epidemic" (their word, not mine) on campus is supposed to be. For example - the IDS tells us that there are 43 reports of rape to every 1 prosecuted - as though that is supposed to convince me that rape is common. I'm sorry, but without real evidence that these rapes have occurred, there is nothing to distinguish this from the situation where false reports of rape are common, the crime itself rare. And indeed, there is reliable evidence that false reports of rape are common. I cannot simply "take people at their word" that they have been raped.

Well, the feminists will say, but there are solid reasons to believe that rape is underreported. Going through a rape is meant to be traumatic, so the victim doesn't even want to believe it's happened for a couple of days afterward. Alright - granted, maybe there are reasons to believe that it is underreported. But it seems to me that there are equally convincing reasons to believe that it is overreported. Namely, girls who regret having slept with someone can easily pass it off as rape and absolve themselves of responsibility. And in fact, this has already happened twice this year at IU that we know - most prominently when a girl went to the police with a report that she had been kidnapped off of 10th Street by three men, when the reality was that it was only one man, and there was no kidnapping because she'd arranged to meet him herself in a hotel room after having met him online.

And indeed, there are a couple of other feminist myths about rape worth dispelling.

First, being sent to prison for a rape you didn't commit is much worse than being raped. Rape involves - what? - about 10 minutes of physical torture. And then there is the associated psychological trauma, which will of course be worse for some victims than for others. Contrast this with what happens to someone falsely convicted. He is sent to prison - for YEARS. Prison is usually a violent place: he will probably undergo physical trauma worse than that of the average rape victim over the course of his stay there. He may even be raped multiple times himself. When he is released, he will have a permanent blot on his record that makes it difficult to find a job, live a normal life, pursue a meaningful career, or form normal relationships with people. Clearly, this is worse that being raped once at a party.

If for no other reason than that, we cannot simply relax the "innocent until proven guilty" standard for this one crime because victims of it typically find it difficult to come forward in time. People who want this sort of punishment administered to their attacker need to be willing to play ball to make sure that the system is honestly pursuing the real criminals. Protecting the victims' feelings is important - but only if they are real victims, and certainly not at the cost of sending innocent men to prison on spurious charges. That is why I find it entirely unacceptable that the recent IDS report spends three articles talking about a spate of crimes that they cannot even prove occurred as though they were established fact without any mention of the real human consequences that encouraging false reports of rapes is likely to have on others.

Another feminist myth that needs busting: warning young girls away from frat parties is not "blaming the victim," it is good advice.

I am really getting tired of the feminist "blaming the victim" mantra. In fact, that they keep repeating it is the surest evidence I have that this is a political tool for them more than an actual concern with women's safety.

The most recent article in the IDS' latest trilogy, in fact, blames rape on "campus culture." It contains such inane statements as this one, from Middle Way House crisis intervention services coordinator Liz Hannibal:

Women have a right to feel sexy and to be cute.

Well, sure, but just because you have a right to something doesn't make it safe in all circumstances. I have a right to buy all kinds of jewlry and walk around in the ghetto at night too, but that doesn't mean I won't get robbed if I do. It isn't "blaming the victim" to tell a rich kid not to flaunt his wealth in a poor, high-crime neighborhood after dark. We would all agree that a robbery that occurs under these circumstances is still a robbery and still against the law and still prosecutable. Nothing about that makes it a bad idea to tell people to have the common sense to avoid the situation in question.

Women can be as sexy and cute as they like, but that doesn't make it a good idea to dress up all sexy and go to a frat party and get drunk if you're not planning on having sex, and it isn't "blaming the victim" for me to say so.

Office for Women's Affairs director Carol McCord has this nugget of wisdom:

“Why is it that men believe that a woman who is drunk, passed out or asleep is someone they can have sex with?” she said.

Um ... well, gee, I can think of two possibilities. Either (a) because he's a selfish, sex-obsessed horny scumbag or (b) because maybe he's been drinking a bit himself and isn't thinking too clearly. If it's (a), then parties where girls dress up cute and get drunk enough to pass out is his natural hunting ground. Meaning - girls who don't want to have sex need to take precautions when they go to such parties - like, oh, I dunno - maybe at the very least not drinking till they pass out? If it's (b), we really have to wonder why the Women's Affairs Center apparently thinks women should feel like they can drink irresponsibly enough to pass out whereas men are expected to maintain total control over what they do and take full responsibility for all decisions they make while inebriated? That sounds more than a little sexist to me. What's good for the gander is good for the goose, as it were: if inebriation is not an acceptable defense for a man who has sex with a passed out girl, then at the very least it ought to be OK for us to warn girls that drinking to excess at frat parties is dangerous without being automatically accused of "blaming the victim."

Here is another thing I know: girls who dress to impress and go to frat parties are looking to turn guys on. That's why they go. Many of them aren't planning to have sex with anyone - they just enjoy teasing guys. That's a bit mean, of course, but they're within their rights. Nothing about their teasing makes raping them OK.

However, it DOES make it quite disingenuous of the Middle Way House to say things like "women have a right to feel sexy,"as if that were all that's going on. Putting it that way totally writes the man out of the equation - but the man is the essential ingredient here. She can't "feel sexy" without him. And if she's chosen, as her venue for indulging this little hobby of hers, a party thrown by men specifically to increase their chances of getting laid by getting everyone drunk all round, then gee, it doesn't take an advanced degree in logic to figure out that she'll want to be a little careful. It's a dangerous game she's playing.

It annoys me that people pretend that these parties are other than they are. These parties simply couldn't happen without the complicity of the girls. If the girls didn't want to be there, if they didn't enjoy dressing up and going, if they didn't like flirting and pushing boundaries, they'd hardly attend! No one "tricks" them into any of this - they are well aware of the character and purpose of the party when they go, and that's why they go. If it was just about "getting acquainted" or "meeting interesting people" or whatever else we're expected to believe the motives are, there would hardly be a need for free alcohol, hardly be a need for dancing and loud music, hardly be a need to drive by the dorms and pick up carloads of chicks you've never met - in general the whole character of the party would be different. Any girl who claims she went to a frat party unaware of what it was for is either lying or collossally stupid.

In short, this IDS series is hopelessly onesided. For that reason, I think it is also counterproductive.

Nothing is going to be done about the rape "problem" as long as we're not playing fair. So let's call it like it is.

First - the character of frat parties is not going to change, so the Center for Women's Affairs can go ahead and forget that one. Girls get as much out of them as guys do; that's why they happen. Indeed, sex is just as much an essential ingredient of these parties for the girls as it is for the guys, so the Center for Women's Affairs can stop lying about that any time. Second - women are responsible for what they do while drunk, just as anyone is responsible for what he does while drunk. It is NOT safe for girls to go to parties full of drunk guys with sex on their minds. Girls need to be made aware of the risks - and that includes being frank with them about how difficult it is to prosecute a rape case under such circumstances. Third - rape is not a "special" crime, and due process therefore applies. If a girl wants her attacker prosecuted, then she has to go through the system just like any other crime victim. If you walk into a police station with a couple of scratches and say you got your ass kicked two weeks ago, but oops! you waited too long to report and now most of the evidence is gone, they're probably not going to take you very seriously. And rightly so: it is a waste of their valuable time to pursue hopeless cases. We do not want to live in a nation where people can be thrown in prison on hearsay - that's why there's due process. Rape cannot be tried without evidence, so like it or not, rape victims are going to have to cope long enough to go to the hospital and get the evidence put on record. Fourth - people falsely accused of rape suffer far worse than rape victims. It is therefore not in any way "insenstive" to tell this side of the story along with the victims' side. Let's make no bones about it - someone who falsely accuses someone of rape and gets away with it is much worse than an actual rapist. Society should treat them as such.

If the Center for Women's Affairs wants to do something useful, they need to work on emboldening rape victims to come forward in a timely manner. It also wouldn't hurt for them to stop lying about why girls go to frat parties so that girls can get honest advice about how to be safe there. "Campus culture" isn't something that men invented and women are victims of - especially at a school like IU that is solid majority female. Most importantly, they need to stop talking about crimes they cannot prove as though they were established facts. It is inappropriate for the IDS to be reporting on a campus rape "epidemic" if no one can even prove so much as a single rape on campus in the last four years. 43 reports of rape are just reports.


At 11:24 AM, Blogger noahpoah said...

Alright - granted, maybe there are reasons to believe that it is underreported. But it seems to me that there are equally convincing reasons to believe that it is overreported.

Of course, these two possibilities are not mutually exclusive. Given that there are two relevant states of reality (rape occurred or no rape occurred) and two labels to apply (rape claimed or no rape claimed), and given that people that actually are raped don't always say so, while people that aren't raped sometimes claim to have been, a signal detection problem is exactly what we should expect. Worries about underreporting are worries about low hit rates, whereas worries about overreporting are worries about false alarms. The trick, of course, is to find the optimal response bias...

“Why is it that men believe that a woman who is drunk, passed out or asleep is someone they can have sex with?” she said.

Um ... well, gee, I can think of two possibilities.

I can think of a third possibility, namely that men, in general, don't actually think that a passed-out drunk woman is available for sex. Now, this quote may be taken out of context (i.e., maybe it was already established that the discussion is about frat parties and similar situations), but it still seems like an overgeneralization to me.

At 2:37 PM, Blogger Joshua said...

I hadn't actually thought of accuracy in rape reports as a signal detection problem, but of course you're right. But of equal course, you spend more time than the average grad student thinking of random things as signal detection problems.

Good point about the "third possibility." I really missed an easy score on the feminazis there. I think even in context (and it was indeed quoted in the context of frat parties, though this is IDS, so I have no real way of knowing that the speaker uttered it in such a context) it's way too much of a generalization. Clearly there are some guys who think that they can have sex with women who are passed out, but they are no doubt vastly outnumbered by the men who think they can just take money or cellphones from such women, and even this group is relatively small. I certainly don't know any (but then, many of my friends are ambiguously gay ... and from Michigan).

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